5 Things We've Learned A Year After Cecil The Lion's Death

What has changed, and what hasn't.

This week marks one year since a Minnesota dentist illegally shot Cecil, a lion from a protected park in Zimbabwe who was being studied by researchers from Oxford University. Now that the dust has settled, we can more clearly look back and see how far we've come since then.

Here are 5 things we've learned since Cecil's death: 

1. Conservation has become an important, mainstream topic.

News of Cecil's death sparked international outrage, with protests against the hunter and even a heartfelt speech from a late night talk show host. Conservation of lions was pushed to the forefront of our minds, with many people realizing for the first time that the loss of wildlife isn't an abstract concept: it's all too real.

There were some critics who lamented that people seemed to care more about the death of one lion than the Black Lives Matter movement or that many people speaking out neither understood nor cared about how tourists hunting wildlife affects the lives of the residents of Zimbabwe. 

These points are valid, but just because one thing is important doesn't mean that nothing else is. Is equality important? Of course. Should we care about people in Zimbabwe whose economic system is so fragile that they have to rely on wealthy tourists spending up to $75,000 to hunt? Absolutely. 

But that doesn't mean we only have to pay attention to human matters. 

We can and must include wildlife conservation into the complex conversation about how to make the planet a better place for all. 

Lions aren't just big cats that live on our planet; they're incredible animals with whom we share the planet, and they deserve to live good lives just as much as we do.

2. Cecil's pride is still thriving.

The competition for dominance over a pride can be fierce for lions. If an alpha male dies, a new male will want to assume the role. Because the females caring for cubs won't be interested in mating with the newcomer, male lions will often kill the offspring of another male, freeing the females up for mating. 

After Cecil's death, there were concerns that his bloodline would end and his offspring would be killed by whoever took over, but that hasn't been the case. Another male, Jericho, has taken over the pride yet —surprisingly — has not killed Cecil's cubs. 

Cecil and Jericho had a past filled with conflict, yet somehow were able to come together and share territory for the last couple of years of Cecil's life—an incredibly rare situation. Even after Cecil died, this peculiar alliance has held. Cecil's cubs have been protected by Jericho, keeping his legacy intact.

3. There has been a lot of progress in reforming laws surrounding trophy hunting.

Cecil's death was illegal because he was baited off of protected land. But trophy hunting is not illegal. 

There are arguments for and against the practice. While the trophy hunting industry does have an economic benefit for local communities, critics believe the means are not worth the ends.

"As the Cecil tragedy showed, hunting is hard to regulate and it's difficult to ensure it's truly sustainable, but the challenge for hunting opponents is to find alternative revenue for lion conservation in cash strapped-areas that may not benefit from tourism," WildAid CEO Peter Knights told A Plus.

Public response to Cecil's death has prompted a lot of reform around the world, with several countries either banning trophy hunting or dramatically increasing restrictions. Transporting trophies has also become more difficult, with dozens of airlines around the world prohibiting them from their cargo areas.

4. Conservation agencies are working with locals to peacefully co-exist with lions.

Cecil was killed as a trophy, but this type of hunting is not the biggest threat facing lion populations. 

"It's not just about trophy hunting. In fact, habitat loss and the bushmeat trade are far more perilous issues," Andrew Harmon, Communications Director of WildAid, told A Plus in an email. 

According to WildAid, these local threats kill 5-10 times as many lions as trophy hunting. In order to promote lion conservation, WildAid has formed an alliance with Panthera in a campaign called Let Lions Live. Together, they work with communities, African governments, and other organizations to find better ways for lions and local people to co-exist peacefully. 

They want to work with local farmers, building better enclosures for livestock to keep lions out and reducing the use of certain pesticides. Additionally, they are encouraging communities to use lions for ecotourism, as well as additional payouts for protecting populations. 

5. Organizations still need donations to protect lions like Cecil.

Donations to conservation organizations skyrocketed in the weeks following Cecil's death, but the hundreds of other lions that were killed since then without media attention prove that the work is not done. 

The numbers may look bleak, with lion populations down 43 percent from what they were 20 years ago, but because humans are chiefly responsible for this, we can help turn it around.

Here are some organizations that put donations to good use and come up with true solutions, ensuring that all lions will have a future:

Let Lions Live



WildCRU (the organization that studied Cecil and continues to study his pride)

African Wildlife Foundation

Cover image: Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock